A local lesson from the Clinton e-mail controversy

Printed in the Bloomington Herald-Times, July 13, 2016

Regardless of what you think about whether or not Hillary Clinton should be prosecuted over her use of a private e-mail server, the lesson is obvious: If you are sending work-related things, you should be using a work e-mail account. This is not difficult to understand and should be universal practice. In fact, the more powerful the position, the more important it is to use work e-mail for work-related communications.

So after years of comprehensive coverage of this issue, it is incredibly disappointing that Monroe County Commissioners Pat Stoffers and Julie Thomas are using personal e-mail for their work-related communications, according to the county commissioners web site. Thomas even set up a special gmail account specifically for her work as a county commissioner instead of using county government’s e-mail server. Thomas and Stoffers, like Clinton, are Democrats.

The primary reason that it is important to follow proper e-mail protocol is that it is a much stronger protection for transparency. If the e-mails are under the control of the county’s technical services department, it can be backed up and archived. Yes, people can delete e-mails, but having the e-mail be totally under the control of the elected official herself/himself removes that layer of protection and transparency.

So why exactly are Thomas and Stoffers not using the county e-mail server? Do they have something to hide in conducting their official business? I certainly hope that is not the case. Is it done for the sake of convenience? Perhaps, but millions upon millions of people are perfectly capable of managing separate work and personal e-mail accounts – including multiple accounts. I have done it for many years. Obviously, both Stoffers and Thomas are tech-savvy enough to do this.

We should also consider the issue of employee morale and the example this sets for county government employees. Employees are expected to use their work e-mail account for their work-related communications, but the two elected county executives do not. Is this leading by example? Stoffers makes $34,249.00 per year while Thomas earns $32,921.00 annually. What does it say to county employees when the executives earning more than they do for what is officially a part time position are not following basic best practices expected of them?

This is something that should never have been an issue. Both Stoffers and Thomas know better, especially in light of Hillary Clinton’s e-mail scandal. Why they would have ever done this in the first place and set this kind of bad example is baffling. Even Monroe County Republican Party chairman William Ellis moved months ago to create official e-mail accounts for the Election Board in order to increase transparency. If Ellis can do this, why are elected Democratic county administrators not doing the same?

This practice needs to stop immediately. Stoffers and Thomas need to switch to an official county government e-mail account for official county government business. Furthermore, policies should be tightened to make sure this is not an issue in the future. Taxpayers deserve no less.

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